Once upon a time, the Knicks were the toast of the town. Led by future Hall of Famers such as Willis Reed and Walt Frazier, the franchise captured its only two NBA championships in the early 1970s.
Those teams, along with their rise to power, are chronicled in “When the Garden Was Eden,” the new documentary from actor and die-hard Knicks fan Michael Rapaport that is currently screening at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Although it has been 41 years since Madison Square Garden was home to an NBA champion, the Knicks haven’t been all bad in the meantime. Here’s a look at the four best teams, in chronological order, since the Knicks defeated the Lakers in 1973.
Red Holzman, who coached both Knicks champions a decade earlier, had stepped away for good a year earlier and left the team in the hands of Hubie Brown. That, along with the trade that brought in small forward Bernard King, marked a new era for the Knicks. King, center Bill Cartwright and point guard Rory Sparrow teamed up to lead the Knicks to consecutive Eastern Conference semifinals in ’83 and ’84 before losing to the eventual champions 76ers and Celtics, respectively.
Better known as the Pat Riley Era, the Knicks were a gritty force of nature during the first half of the ’90s. Riley took the pieces that had been in place for years — center Patrick Ewing and power forward Charles Oakley — and mixed then-unknowns John Starks and Anthony Mason to create a core that won at least 51 games every year. With Ewing leading the way, the Knicks won 60 games in 1992-93 and reached the NBA Finals a year later, losing to the Rockets in seven games.
While the Knicks were successful during the entire decade, the team saw a change in identity at the end of the 1990s. Ewing was still contributing for this bunch but had made way for guards Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell to become the new faces of the team. In the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, the Knicks became the first No. 8 seed to reach the NBA Finals — thanks in part to forward Larry Johnson’s famous four-point play against the rival Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals. Although they lost to the Spurs in five games, they won 50 games a year later and again met the Pacers in the conference finals, this time falling in six games.
Surely, this one is fresh in the city’s memory. Carmelo Anthony and crew won 54 games and their first Atlantic Division title since 1994. Anthony won the regular-season scoring title and J.R. Smith was named the league’s top sixth man while a collective of veterans — Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler, to name a few — brought championship experience. The Knicks won their first playoff series since 2000, but once again hit a wall against a new group of Pacers in the conference semifinals.